Humber Valley Village students take home second-place prize in robotics competition

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Humber Valley Village JMS’s Category 10 robotics team stormed to a second-place finish at a Nature’s Fury-themed competition earlier this month.


Head Coach Dino Sbrocca said the success of his team, which consists of grades 6 and 7 students Ian Harvey, Ian Joseph, Luiza Lena, Hewitt McGaughey, Keiran Pace, Keegan Saunders, Aaron Sbrocca, Taylor Thiele and Anna Thomas, was well-deserved.


“They just continue to make me proud. It was very emotional to see them win and go up there and high five all the judges and accept their awards,” he said of Category 10’s success at First Lego League’s (FLL) western provincial championships, which were held at the University of Waterloo on Jan. 11. “They worked hard and it was really great to see them succeed.”


Run by First Robotics Canada, the First Lego League (FLL) is a program that introduces young students to real-world engineering challenges by engaging them to build Lego-based robots designed to complete tasks on a thematic playing surface.


To prepare for the provincial championships, Sbrocca said the nine student members of Humber Valley Village’s Category 10 team – most of whom are ‘rookies’ – have been meeting after school two days a week since September to design, build and program Dunebuggy, their own Lego-based robot.


“They came up with their own original design and built it themselves. They started with three prototypes and then took the best attributes from each and combined them into the final robot,” Sbrocca said, noting that Dunebuggy is fitted with three motors, light, gyro and touch sensors, as well as tool attachments.


“It’s all run by a small Lego brick computer, which sits on the robot and which drives the motors and the tool attachments and the sensors and things like that. So the kids themselves write code on a PC in a Windows environment, and then they downloaded it onto the brick computer, and the brick computer then executes the programs and makes the robot move around autonomously…it’s pretty cool.”


With this year’s Nature’s Fury theme, Dunebuggy and the other student-built robots competing in the FLL provincials were tasked with releasing the waves of a tsunami, moving supply trucks and delivering supplies, pushing ambulances, etc – all within a two-and-a-minute time limit, while manouevering around Lego buildings and obstacles on an 8-by-10-foot table.


Category 10’s Dunebuggy robot scored an impressive 462 points – just 10 points off the lead, winning them a second place finish out of a field of 41 teams.


In addition to the robot competition at FLL championships, Sbrocca said the students were also tasked with researching a natural disaster of their own choosing and coming up with solutions to protect people against that natural disaster.


Team Category 10 chose ice storms as their natural disaster and soon went about researching how one might prevent the power outages that seem always to result from icy downfalls.


“Our team contacted a scientist down at Yale University and we had a Skype call with him to talk about something called Anti-Freeze Proteins (AFP) – proteins that naturally occur in animals like fish and Siberian beetles,” Sbrocca said, noting that his team decided from that conversation that they would use AFPs to make a paint, which they would use to coat the city’s high-powered transmission lines.


“AFPs work much better than salt as an anti-freeze – all the way down to temperatures as low as -30C. So the kids wrote up whole research project on AFPs, which they then presented to an engineer at a high-voltage lab.”


In total, Sbrocca said he and his fellow Category 10 coaches – Mark Dickson, Jacquie Curtis, Bronwen Thomas, and mentor Nathan Thomas – helped the students put in nearly 80 to 100 hours of prep work each for the FLL provincial championships, at which they both presented their project to judges and faced off against other teams with their robot.


Category 10’s second-place finish at the Jan. 11 competition qualifies them to compete against an international playing field at the FLL Canadian Open competition coming up in June at the University of Toronto.


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